Gods of Egypt
Directed by Alex Proyas
Opens February 26
90s revivalism has become so ubiquitous that it may yet be killed, but in the meantime the multiplexes have been stormed by new films from erstwhile studio hired hands like Stephen Hopkins, Kevin Reynolds, and now former music-video hope Alex Proyas with Gods of Egypt. Back in the 90s, Proyas directed exactly two Hollywood features, but what a record: The Crow is probably the definitive goth movie of the decade as well as Brandon Lee’s tragic swan song, and Dark City is even better, a noirish sci-fi reality-bender that beat The Matrix to movie screens by a full year. But while other 90s music video guys like David Fincher and Michael Bay went on to further glory, Proyas stalled out. Garage Days from his native Australia was a poor man’s Danny Boyle picture, and his studio comeback I, Robot was supposedly stymied by Fox intervention. It’s not terrible, but it sure isn’t what you’d want to get out of a robot action movie from the director of Dark City.
Lately, he seems to be the go-to guy for minimajors like Lionsgate/Summit, once competitors and now the same studio with different logos. He did Knowing, a much-derided Nic Cage vehicle with, it must be said, the courage of its loony convictions, and now here is Gods of Egypt, many years late to the post-300 ripoff boom. Gods of Egypt’s ridiculous trump card is that unlike the actual 300 sequel, this one actually finagled Gerard Butler, strutting into the movie and expecting applause like a beloved sitcom character for his role as Set, the Egyptian god of darkness, and I’m telling you right now that all of my plot recap for this movie is coming off of Wikipedia, not my recollection of the movie itself, because plot points don’t even make the top ten list of things I remember from seeing Gods of Egypt just hours ago.
Butler maintains his Scottish accent as Set, and why not? It beats the shit out of his masticating American accent, although it does not beat the shit out of maybe having actors of color play Egyptians. But it’s hard to get too worked up about the whitewashing of a movie nominally set in Egypt but also makes enthusiastic sojourns to the underworld and also space. All of this journeying happens because Set kills the father of Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) and tears out Horus’s eyes, preventing Horus from becoming the god-king of Egypt. Years after this coup, Horus teams up with the mortal thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to retrieve his powers, which Bek covets to help his lady love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) out of the underworld. Thank you again, Wikipedia.
That’s not to say Gods of Egypt isn’t memorable. The high-gloss pulp look of the movie contrasts highly with Proyas’s night-set 90s pictures, and also represents a blast of visual energy compared to I, Robot and even the well-shot but darkish Knowing. Though the physical sets of his early movies were frequently astonishing, Proyas leans on computerized environments here. It’s very much a semi-animated green-screened world a la, again, 300, and pretty fake-looking especially when the actors’ heads appear alone in a shot, but there’s also a crispness to the imagery that keeps it from looking like an extended effects demo. There’s a certain presentational flourish to the way Proyas shows off his golden castles, shiny transformed-god armor, impossibly gigantic creatures, impossibly low-cut Egyptian dresses, and And Credit Geoffrey Rush as Ran the Sun God. The movie isn’t really exciting in the traditional sense, but its eagerness to fill eyes with opulence sure is.
Opulent, gold-plated visuals, B-level actors, 300 ripoff… you’d be forgiven for confusing Gods of Egypt with Immortals (if you remember it), and for confusing Proyas, the poor bastard, with Tarsem Singh, who also has a distinctive music-video sensibility that hasn’t always been served by his Hollywood career—but has made more of a go at it in recent years than Proyas. And his 90s output nonwithstanding, Proyas doesn’t have the dreamy intensity conjured by Singh’s best work. For that matter, Proyas has never made a movie as light on its feet as Singh’s Mirror, Mirror, and weirdly, Gods of Egypt comes closest, especially when it toys with its own silliness and stumbles across images that are actually kind of inspired, not just gaudily impressive, like Thoth (Chadwick Boseman, droll) supervising a hall full of busy clones, in hiding from Set and attempting to preserve their all-consuming knowledge.
Then again, sometimes attempts at self-awareness fall flat, like having Thwaites, the fellow with the Van Der Beekish dopiness about his face, ask RE: a terrible pit underneath a perilous bridge, where Set could have gotten so many scorpions. In a movie where characters ride around on giant snakes and via beetle-driven chariots, a complaint about a mass of scorpions doesn’t sound like self-aware cleverness; it sounds like the movie is nitpicking itself, and poorly. The visuals aren’t home-free from bad decisions, either: someone apparently decided it was very important for the god characters to be somewhat bigger and taller than any of the humans, which makes a lot of its actors look pointlessly and distractingly mismatched in the frame at all times.
Yet there’s something satisfying about a good 300/Clash of the Titans knockoff; Immortals, Pompeii, this movie, and even the 300 follow-up are more enjoyable, in their disreputable and expensive ways, than the self-important genuine articles. Granted, there’s really no good reason for this nonsense to last over two hours; there’s probably no good reason for it to exist at all beyond garnering Alex Proyas a long-overdue paycheck. But here it is, and it’s actually pretty fun. About as minor as miracles get, but not bad for ancient gods, I guess.